Written by Jill Nossa and Pete Sheehan Wednesday, 15 May 2013 00:00
In recent weeks, Glen Cove School District has been the subject of a number of top headlines in the region. The most recent event happened last Thursday, when Superintendent Dr. Joseph Laria resigned, seven weeks before his planned retirement.
The district is currently under two separate investigations involving alleged test coaching in two elementary schools and alleged grade changing at the high school. Several weeks after those investigations were made public, high school principal Dr. Joseph Hinton announced he would be out on medical leave until the end of the school year. The investigations have lead to mounting tensions within the district, and numerous speculation about what is happening in the schools, without any clear answers.
“There seems to be a great deal of anxiety in the schools,” said Eric Bailey, an attorney, active parent in the schools, and a candidate for the school board. “If there is anxiety among the teachers, administration, and staff, it’s going to eventually affect the students and the students are our primary concern.”
“I’m surprised and disappointed at what may or may not be happening in the district,” said Mayor Ralph V. Suozzi. “This investigation is putting stress on the kids, the teachers, the faculty and now the community. What I want most is for it to conclude.”
From now through June 30, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Louis M. Zocchia is the acting superintendent, until Maria Rianna, who was appointed to the position by the board of education in January,takes over as planned on July 1.
No reason for Dr. Laria’s resignation was given in an online statement posted by the board of education on the district’s website.
Rick Smith, owner of the Piano Exchange, who regularly attends board meetings, commented that the turmoil that has erupted in the district recently “raises a lot of suspicions.”
He criticized what he called Laria’s “vindictive” style of administration and the school’s board complicity with him. He cited the board’s decision not renew the contract for Kevin Wurtz, the district assistant superintendent and business manager for 10 years. He further criticized the board’s decision to appoint Louis Zocchia, district assistant to the superintendent for personnel for the past year, to serve as interim superintendent following Laria’s resignation. Smith noted Zocchia’s relative inexperience, compared to Wurtz, who he said would be a more logical candidate.
Smith noted that he hopes that the board will reconsider decisions made about Wurtz, who, he said, has shown the ability and has the experience to help the district through its present difficulties.
Regarding the investigation into the grade schools and high school about reported coaching for assessment tests and actually changing scores, Bailey said that an investigation was necessary.
“Yet it seems to be that the investigation is taking a bit longer than it needs to,” Bailey said, and specifics were always left vague, which casts a shadow on everyone. “We need closure and we need healing.
“The best way to bring about healing,” Bailey said, “ is to announce that we have 600 employees and that only a small fraction are under suspicion, and that we recognize, support, and value our employees.”
As for Dr. Laria, Bailey commented, “What is most important is that the school district does the right thing. So, if we investigated the teachers, we should investigate the superintendent.”
The various controversies “certainly could affect the vote on the budget, but I’m hoping that they won’t,” Bailey said. “I hope that people will vote on the merits of the budget based on what we can do for the students and not our their anxiety about the situation.”
While district officials have maintained there is credibility to the allegations, many in the community have called the investigation a “witch hunt” and some parents have even said they don’t think anything will come of cheating. “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” one parent told the Record Pilot.
Both Mayor Suozzi and Assemblyman Charles Lavine indicated the importance of a review from the state into the investigation.
“I have asked the state’s Commissioner of Education for an independent review of the way in which the district’s investigation was conducted,” said Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove). “I am proud of the diversity of the district and the quality of education even though neighboring districts are capable of spending considerably more on their public education. I am also proud of the dedication of our educators and the quality of education which is first-rate.”
“My first concern as a parent, as a resident and as a leader in this community is for the children,” said Suozzi. “This is a great district, and we need to move forward.”